How can we fix HMRC?

Huge delays and poor service levels causing headaches for clients and agents, when will it end?

Didn't find your answer?

I've been an avid follower of Accounting Web for around 15 years and this is the first time I have felt the need to reach out to other members with my own post.

I'm absolutely appalled at the lack of resources at HMRC and the amount of time/money their incompetency and delays are now costing me and my clients. I have a number of examples I could share here but the latest one beggars belief. 

Submitted a tax return by post in January for 2023/24 tax year for a deceased client and could see yesterday that it hadn't been processed. Tried calling the "agent priority line" to get it sorted and gave up after being on hold for over an hour. Managed to get through this morning (after 40 minutes) to find out that they are still dealing with post from April last year. The gentlemen confirmed that the return had been received and that he would email it to the appropriate place but it could take a further 17 weeks to process. There is a refund owed on this return which his widow could really do with having.

I had another client last year where HMRC had objected to striking off a company because they hadn't processed the letter I had sent to them months beforehand. When I called them, they confirmed that yes they could see the letter but I had to wait until the 12 weeks had passed before they could log it and therefore remove the objection to strike off. Utter madness. This resulted in a huge delay and more unnecessary fees for the client. If they had acted on my original letter within a reasonable timeframe then they wouldn't have had to take my follow up calls either.

How is it acceptable for a government department to carry on like this? How many phone calls do members now have to make to chase up issues or correct HMRC mistakes now? How much time and resources (both mine and HMRC) are being wasted simply because of the lack of resources at HMRC. 

Does anybody else feel like they are working now with their hands tied behind their back? What on earth can be done about it?

Replies (64)

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By JB101
10th May 2024 12:49

Fixing HMRC is well above my pay grade!
We all have numerous issues and concerns that only seem to multiply and get worse year on year.
Short of setting up a new HMRC(v2) and properly funding the new organisation and training new staff, I couldn't even make a suggestion of what to do with HMRC- unless I resort to profanities!

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Replying to JB101:
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By Paul Crowley
10th May 2024 13:00

currently the C ought to be c0cks-up

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By Paul Crowley
10th May 2024 12:58

It gets worse on what looks like a deliberately planned basis.
I spend less time preparing and submitting a pointless tax return than it takes to call and get the tax return withdrawn.
HMRC have done two massive u-turns in recent months, double cab pick-ups and phones being switched off, indicating that they appear to be driverless.
Clients find it difficult to believe how inept the tax system is. HMRC systems are not linked.
Company accounting date changes are not noticed by the Corporation tax system.

As it is, an enemy attack by hackers would probably only be noticed because the attack made the system work better.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By loraine99
10th May 2024 13:09

"I spend less time preparing and submitting a pointless tax return than it takes to call and get the tax return withdrawn."

Can completely relate to this!

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Replying to loraine99:
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By Homeworker
13th May 2024 10:27

Ditto!

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By DonDan
10th May 2024 13:22

I'd start by immediately scrapping the quarterly reporting nonce-sense and use some of that money to put together an integrated system for agents to access that brings together all the information HMRC hold for a client

CIS suffered, paye information (available by the end of April not by some mysterious time in the future), include the ability to put a client into, or take them out of self-assessment, register them for self-employment/self-assessment and issue a UTR instantly, file CGT returns, be able to amend coding notices etc etc etc.

This magical new portal would be accessible using the current authorisation procedures, 64/8, code by post or a digital handshake - whichever is easier for the client to manage.

Then instigate a way to digitally communicate with HMRC that could be accessed from inside the agent's HMRC account thus dealing with the authorisation being in place before the communication begins.

Once in place the need to speak to someone at HMRC would be dramatically reduced so they would be able to have fewer people on the helplines and properly train the ones that do answer the phones.

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Replying to DonDan:
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By loraine99
10th May 2024 13:32

Agreed! If we could access more information online in this "digital era" it would dramatically cut down on the need to pick up the phone.

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Replying to DonDan:
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By mbee1
10th May 2024 14:21

DonDan wrote:

I'd start by immediately scrapping the quarterly reporting nonce-sense and use some of that money to put together an integrated system for agents to access that brings together all the information HMRC hold for a client

CIS suffered, paye information (available by the end of April not by some mysterious time in the future), include the ability to put a client into, or take them out of self-assessment, register them for self-employment/self-assessment and issue a UTR instantly, file CGT returns, be able to amend coding notices etc etc etc.

This magical new portal would be accessible using the current authorisation procedures, 64/8, code by post or a digital handshake - whichever is easier for the client to manage.

Then instigate a way to digitally communicate with HMRC that could be accessed from inside the agent's HMRC account thus dealing with the authorisation being in place before the communication begins.

Once in place the need to speak to someone at HMRC would be dramatically reduced so they would be able to have fewer people on the helplines and properly train the ones that do answer the phones.

This is exactly what a colleague and I were talking about this morning. Rather than spend the more than £1b on MTD, spend it on making the current systems work. Ensure they are all integrated, let agents have access to certain parts of it and, as you say, be able to withdraw a Return, put someone into SA and be able to change tax codes. Easier for us and HMRC and fra less phone calls to make.

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Replying to DonDan:
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By taxadvisor2024
16th May 2024 11:15

I cannot stress enough that if HMRC implemented the above, it would save about 99% of our calls to HMRC, and make our day a million times more efficient/productive.

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By nrw2
10th May 2024 13:36

Life hack for HMRC's disgraceful call wait times: get a Google Pixel phone and use it for calling HMRC. It has a 'Hold for me' feature, meaning it will queue silently for you and alert you when a human answers - it works perfectly and liberates you to get on with other things. It sounds simple, but it makes such a difference.

[ If I end up in hell I'm sure HMRC's hold music will be playing... ]

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Replying to nrw2:
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By loraine99
10th May 2024 13:45

Great idea. I usually just leave it on speaker but am still tied to my desk, just in case they pickup! Make sure you've been to the bathroom and got a cuppa before you phone. If they could just change the hold music every now and again....

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By TickTock
10th May 2024 15:16

I rang HMRC last week to talk about a letter they had sent out to say that a client had not filed a P14 for a specific employee when they filed their P35 Annual Return.

The letter was addressed to the employee (as they were trying to do an expense claim) and it said 'when you submitted your form P35 Employer Annual Return for the tax year 23/24 you did not include a form P14 for the following employee' ... employee name was the Employer name and the works number was the Employer PAYE reference.

The letter was completely wrong from all angles.

The first time I rang I was on hold for 37 minutes, spoke to someone, got placed on hold and then was cut off.

The second call was 50 minutes on hold, spoke to someone, got placed on hold and then was cut off.

The final call was 50 minutes on hold, spoke to someone who confirmed that all the relevant filings were in place under RTI.

3 hours of my life I am never getting back. I am inclined to write a letter of complaint to HMRC but that would involve even more of my time.

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Replying to TickTock:
By Nebs
13th May 2024 10:27

A letter of complaint, accompanied by an invoice for 3 hours of your time, would seem to be in order. If everyone started claiming for their time then it might focus a few minds.

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Replying to Nebs:
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By bernard michael
13th May 2024 10:42

Nebs wrote:

A letter of complaint, accompanied by an invoice for 3 hours of your time, would seem to be in order. If everyone started claiming for their time then it might focus a few minds.


It won't. They'll divert staff to a new dept Called Reasons Why Not Pay and the service will get worse as a consequence.
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Replying to Nebs:
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By loraine99
13th May 2024 10:58

I recently raised a complaint over the handling of an enquiry into property income. It took around a year to resolve what was a fairly straight forward issue. There were long delays in between communications and some non sensical calculations on HMRC part. The complaint was dealt with with the relevant department and involved an HMRC person reviewing every single bit of correspondence and every telephone call. They concluded that they hadn't dealt with the enquiry as they should have done, and issued some compensation to the client.....................£75. There was the ability to submit a claim for additional costs the client had paid, but there were so many hoops to jump through to get it, it simply wasn't worth the extra effort. Oh and they don't put anything in writing when issuing compensation, its done via a phone call!

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Replying to Nebs:
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By djtax
14th May 2024 12:54

I agree - but we then have the HMRC imposed hassle of explaining it to the client who has to pay the bill to us before HMRC will reimburse him/her. In practice we accountants will often abandon the idea if the client is nervous about having to pay up front an amount that may look to them as disproportionately large in comparison to the bill we charge them for doing their tax return. The system ought to be changed to allow us to bill HMRC direct but that idea does not seem to have ever gained any traction.

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Replying to djtax:
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By raycad
15th May 2024 13:35

Replying to DJ tax:

I can certainly second that. I would only lodge a formal complaint if the potential compensation was significant. It'll often take at least 2 hours to put together a complaint letter. As well as sending a copy of the invoice and proof of payment HMRC usually want to see a copy of the timesheet to support the claim and are not happy to include the time spent on the complaint itself.

My last complaint itself took over 6 months to come to fruition, which then results in even further time being expended!

The system is rigged against the taxpayer and the game just isn't worth the candle if one is asking purely for a "distress" payment.

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By AS44NG
10th May 2024 15:52

Is Guy Fawkes available?

I fear the worst in that HMRC is slowly imploding to the point where it will fail to operate. Maybe I am being too pessimistic but more encounters with them this week have had me in deeper despair.

They cynic in me wonders if this government who almost immediately made so many HMRC employees redundant did it by design. A crooked bunch they are, what better to have HMRC resources stretched to hide it all?

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By JustAnotherUser
10th May 2024 15:58

you fix it by naming those responsible and stop allowing them to hide behind "HMRC", these career politicians do not like their name linked to anything that will tarnish their image or record.

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VAT
By Jason Croke
10th May 2024 16:37

Remember how they said the Met Police was institutionally racist and 25+ years later it still is....culture is the issue.

HMRC culture has changed, quite rapidly, from what was once a rigid but fair follower of the rules, to what we have today which is a random bunch of people with varying degrees of knowledge and professionalism, but with a common theme of despising the taxpayer.

Harra can quit and get his gong but he's destroyed decades of trust and honesty - the backbone of HMRC- into a service of total denial, blame and lies. There is no guarantee any letter or call you make will produce the correct result, even if you have the law on your side it matters not anymore.

HMRC needs a root and branch redesign and an entire overhaul of its culture, happy for the whole of HMRC to be operated entirely by AI chat bots as at least they will follow the law, not make stuff up and do it quickly.

Most of my interactions with HMRC are fixing things HMRC have got wrong, wrong penalties, lost letters, ignoring emails/letters, etc

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Replying to Jason Croke:
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By loraine99
10th May 2024 19:50

Yes, me too. How frustrating when all you hear on hold is a message directing you to the website. They have no idea that we only ever call as a last resort.

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Replying to loraine99:
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By Clare Mitchell
13th May 2024 13:13

Yes THIS!!!! The agent's call number surely implies that we have more experience and knowledge than many of our clients, and so will only call when there's a problem that's either more complex and/or needs extra weight. We don't call without checking things as far as we can go, and definitely never for fun! Yet I'm blithely directed to the website / occasionally cut off entirely. Personally, i have a lot of sympathy with the staff I eventually get through to - and they have always understood and advised on my clients' problems with civility and sense. BUT... it's a lottery as to whether the issue actually gets resolved.

I'm still chasing up a request for payment from self-assessment for a client who mistakenly paid it through simple assessment. Twice an HMRC staff member has confirmed to me they can see the debt and they can see the payment - but in 6 months, it still hasn't been matched up in the HMRC system. And meanwhile the demands and reminders continue to be sent to the client, incurring cost for HMRC and distress for my client. Big sigh.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
10th May 2024 17:48

The first thing would be for them to respond properly to every agent contact.

Instantly you would lose the repeated "follow up" calls.

For example if you request a repayment, and its not repaid, there is no "why" triggered back to the agent, so you then end up chasing not only the failed one but others which have not failed but are slow. This then absorbs huge amount of HMRC's time fielding questions that should not have been asked had we known (a) it had failed and more importantly (b) why, and of course (c) if it had been done quickly in the first place.

But really they need trained operators who can solve issues first time rather than passing around 5 times to get anything done and even then going on an never actioned list. This requires investment in people and technology and a belief in talent being cheaper than hiring minimum wage employees who just dont care.

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the sea otter
By memyself-eye
10th May 2024 18:33

I live opposite two (actually one now, the other died recently) retired tax inspectors. Both highly paid 'civil' servants, now living on fat pensions, and after taking early retirement (poor embattled things)
They don't (didn't) give an ess haich one tee about the problems with HMRC.
Why would they?
They got paid regardless
While politicians pile mindless petty legislation upon mindless equally petty legislation in search of budget headlines, nothing will change
Give up, move abroad, hide in a big cavern get on a refugee boat OUT OF the uk.

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DougScott
By Dougscott
10th May 2024 22:55

Harra needs to be held accountable and sacked. A proper businessperson who puts customers and efficiency first needs to be appointed to the role.

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By johnthegood
11th May 2024 06:08

We all feel your pain, and we all have similar experiences, I recently suggested to the AW editors that we should have a regular article on here - "HMRC what happens and what should happen" which would provide HMRC with a volume of all the various things that we see going wrong every day (AW never got back to me, maybe they feel they would have too many submissions to deal with!).

Given that as agents we probably come across the broadest spectrum of issues across all the various taxes and systems, of any group of people, I have never understood why HMRC do not have a proper Agent team that
a) provide Agents with a priority service
b) give Agents online access to all available data such as CIS, PAYE in real time
c) allow Agents to fix things such as PAYE codes, taking clients in/out of SA etc
d) communicate electronically directly with agents on anything to do with a client that has given the authority to do so
e) have regular feedback sessions and listen to and action what the agents tell them they need

We are not the enemy, by far the majority of us are just trying to make sure the client pays the correct amount of taxes and files everything on time, and that is getting harder to do.

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Replying to johnthegood:
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By loraine99
11th May 2024 08:01

Couldn't agree more. There's so much more we should be able to do digitally rather than have to call HMRC. We don't even get as much info as the clients do on their personal tax accounts, and they don't know what to do with it!

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Replying to johnthegood:
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By Southwestbeancounter
11th May 2024 16:42

You've hit the nail on the head and also with your statement that 'we are not the enemy', but HMRC certainly don't seem to see it that way and they do genuinely appear to despise agents but I never understand why as we are all on the same side as far as timeliness and accuracy are concerned.

I have a friend who works at a HMRC call centre and he used to tell me what the managers said about agents - lets just say he doesn't tell me any more as I 'blew my top' listening to him one day!

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Replying to johnthegood:
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By djtax
14th May 2024 13:01

Having attended the HMRC annual 'Stakeholder Conference' and having heard Harra and MacDonald speak I can only conclude that they have no regard for what we do and what we have to put up with and that they have little intention of ever engaging properly with us to find out. Recent HMRC new systems are designed around the taxpayer not the agent (eg 30/60 day CGT; the mobile phone app).

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By bernard michael
11th May 2024 09:42

As you've been watching Aweb for 15 years you must realise that the HMRC is going from worse to appalling. No one in the government past or present appears to want to pick up this particular problem.
In enswer to your question when will it end...........................never

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By carnmores
11th May 2024 21:46

Their latest wheeze is the regulation of tax practicioners. It would be more beneficial if they put their own house in order first. The attempt to shut down the helplines was unbelievably stupid why can't Harra see that. Time to move him out

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By mbee1
13th May 2024 08:21

Good new and bad news today. Had to call the Employer helpline so rang them on the dot at 8am. After a 3 minute wait to listen to all the rubbish about checking the website etc. I got through straightaway to a human being to try and sort a simple reallocation of funds. Why HMRC issue Late Payment Notifications when there is a credit of over £6K on the account goodness knows.

The bad news is that, what I thought would be a simple and straightforward fix, has taken me over 20 minutes! His systems were very slow and "I've got to go in and out of screens"!

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Replying to mbee1:
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By Homeworker
13th May 2024 10:37

Had to call the ADL recently to recover a CGT overpayment (no other way to do it apparently). First two attempts I spent just over an hour on hold before giving up. The last time I made an effort to get up early and rang just after 8.00. It still took me 48 minutes to get through and I was afraid I was going to be cut off when he then put me on hold again but he did deal with the issue and another.
I don't feel I can charge the client for HMRCs deficiencies (I work for myself) so that nearly 3 hours of my time wasted! Do other agents charge for the time they spend on the phone on hold?

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Replying to Homeworker:
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By loraine99
13th May 2024 10:49

"I don't feel I can charge the client for HMRCs deficiencies (I work for myself) so that nearly 3 hours of my time wasted! Do other agents charge for the time they spend on the phone on hold?"

This is a really good point. I've started leaving the phone on speaker phone and trying to do other work in the meantime, so that I don't have to charge the client for the wait. I have started warning clients now about the issues with calling HMRC to sort out issues and in some cases I have passed some of the time onto the client. There are plenty of other occasions though where I have no choice but to pass the additional time spent chasing things up onto the client. I'm not a charity!

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Replying to loraine99:
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By Homeworker
13th May 2024 13:25

Yes, I leave my phone on speaker too but end up carrying it around with me if I leave my desk and the music and recorded messages drive me nuts!

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Replying to Homeworker:
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By Clare Mitchell
13th May 2024 13:20

No, I don't charge for the Hold time, and often not for the extra follow-ups, if they don't actually incur extra figurework. I try to absorb them into the annual fee. I also keep the call playing in the background (the music! the music!) while i get on with other work. Then have to scrabble when HMRC answers, to remember which client and which query I'm calling about LOL.

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By C Graham
13th May 2024 09:58

Petition His Majesty and let him know his servants are failing his subjects.

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Replying to C Graham:
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By bernard michael
13th May 2024 10:19

C Graham wrote:

Petition His Majesty and let him know his servants are failing his subjects.

Off with their heads!!

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By AdamJones82
13th May 2024 10:01

The millions wasted on MTD thus far would have given a decent, working HMRC

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Replying to AdamJones82:
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By Clare Mitchell
13th May 2024 13:25

I suspect the Govt is pushing MTD as an opportunity for them to ditch the existing systems rather than make amendments (a task obviously too big for their current resources or capability).

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By Retrocanary
13th May 2024 10:15

Hopefully the first step of fixing HMRC will come later this year when many of the people misruling the country are on course to be handed their sandwiches wrapped in a road map.

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By raybackler
13th May 2024 10:19

This has been making me seethe for years. One example from last Friday 10th May. I called the Employer's helpline number, which was answered by someone asking for an NI number. When I pointed out that I had called the Employer's helpline, I was told the call was directed on the basis of the answers I had given, hence the need for a call transfer. When asked the reason for my call, I had stated 'reallocating a PAYE payment with the wrong reference". The system failed to recognise this as an acceptable answer, so I accepted the answer related to the call being about a PAYE payment.

A client had paid PAYE with the wrong reference. After being on hold and transferred, I failed security. This was because I quoted the wrong accounts office reference and then corrected it within the call, but this was unacceptable, so after one and a quarter hours, I was told to call again. This time it took one hour and I was given a timescale of 22nd May for HMRC to come back to me after tracing the payment.

The inefficiency and the knock on effect into the wider economy is scandalous.

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Replying to raybackler:
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By loraine99
13th May 2024 10:27

This is awful but unfortunately does not surprise me at all. Those calls where you have to explain the reason you are calling are terrible. I only tend to call when there's an often complicated issue to sort out, and you simply can't get it across in a few words that a robot can understand. You are then re-directed to the wrong place and have to start all over again. More inefficiencies, time, money........

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Replying to loraine99:
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By Homeworker
13th May 2024 10:39

If I get a robot I invariably ignore it until they put me through to a real person. Thank goodness they don't use it on the ADL.

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By bernard michael
13th May 2024 10:22

I think what we are all forgetting is that it is in the interest of the Civil Service mandarins to keep HMRC inefficient as it consequently produces more power and jobs

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By bernard michael
13th May 2024 10:44

Just a moot point

Why do we use the word service when referring to HMRC when its definition is............the action of helping or doing work for someone ??

Ho hum!!

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VAT
By Jason Croke
13th May 2024 10:57

55mins on hold for a call to HMRC to discuss clients VAT situation.

Failed security as "no 64-8 on file", well that's odd because I know I sent one in 2021, I also have letters from HMRC addressed to me as agent and emails from HMRC Officers relating to the client, but "no 64-8 on file".

Solution was to send in another. Why? HMRC already have one, it's just not on the system or more likely the person pretending to be an HMRC Officer doesn't know how to query the database properly....what was it he said ...."I've searched the inbox for this taxpayer and there is no 64-8"....What do you mean "inbox", a database doesn't have an inbox...64-8's aren't sent by email because backwards HMRC require wet signatures for a 64-8 (most of the time) and this Officer never even asked who I worked for and so I couldn't suggest looking at our digital handshake (seeing as we file VAT returns for the client too).

Have written to HMRC instead but would have been easier for all parties if HMRC didn't have such poorly trained (and unsympathetic) staff.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th May 2024 11:21

Potential Year of Action (others may have a day but for accountants it may need to be up to a year to be taken seriously)

All accountants ask all their clients not to pay any tax, employers to stop paying Vat and PAYE/NI, in effect a vast campaign of disobedience until public concerns are taken seriously.

Bleating about HMRC does not work, cannot work, without a threat it has no chance of working, so introduce a threat to HMG to grab their attention.

"What do we want, Letters Answered, when do we want them, within fourteen days (excluding holidays)"

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Replying to DJKL:
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By bernard michael
13th May 2024 11:48

DJKL wrote:

Potential Year of Action (others may have a day but for accountants it may need to be up to a year to be taken seriously)

All accountants ask all their clients not to pay any tax, employers to stop paying Vat and PAYE/NI, in effect a vast campaign of disobedience until public concerns are taken seriously.

Bleating about HMRC does not work, cannot work, without a threat it has no chance of working, so introduce a threat to HMG to grab their attention.

"What do we want, Letters Answered, when do we want them, within fourteen days (excluding holidays)"


Do you actually think HMRC staff care whether you pay your taxes or not. Their only interests are the fat salaries and pensions they get during a lifetime of honest toil
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Replying to bernard michael:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th May 2024 11:59

It is not the staff it is their political masters that need targetted.

Now I could be wrong but I think HMG works on cash accounting, no tax receipts and the Red Book looks very sick very quick, go for the tax receipts and maybe some politicians will get the point.

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